CEDAR PARK, Texas - The road to the NBA looks to now be a lot shorter for Da'Sean Butler than it recently has been.The 27-year-old West Virginia product has been playing for Austin of the NBA Development League since late December and in 19 games, including 11 starts, he is averaging 11.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists."I like it [in the D-League]," Butler said. "It's been an experience. I've learned so much through the players and as expected, the coaching staff. It's just great to have the opportunity to continue to do this."Brad Jones is the Toros' head coach and even though he has been coaching this ex-Mountaineer for only a short time, he likes what he has seen thus far.
"First of all, we're super excited to get a talent like him. Second of all, we're kind of excited to be part of his road to be the player that he was before he got injured," Jones said. "He's getting better and better every game."Of course, this is Butler's first full season of competitive basketball since he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in WVU's trip to the 2010 Final Four, their second in school history.Since leaving Morgantown, he has been drafted by Miami in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft and after a short stint with the Heat, caught on with the Spurs in March 2011. But with the uncertainty surrounding the NBA lockout, he explored other options last fall and ended up in Latvia for a short time."Well, I was there for probably four days. But the four days there was a great experience, just watching those guys play and seeing their style of play," Butler said. "Overall, it was a good experience."
His stay in the Baltics also gave him a taste of what playing overseas might be like, if he wanted to do that long-term. "I haven't thought about it, but I wouldn't count anything out like that at all," Butler said. "If something were to open up, then by all means I can't turn it down."For now, his focus is on doing all he can in the D-League so that he can get called up to the NBA. And he feels he has a pretty good idea of what he needs to do for that to happen."Honestly, I would just say [the biggest thing] for me to get one would be just to stay true to myself," Butler said. "My whole style is similar to my personality of not playing outside of my game, staying within myself, playing defense, rebounding and doing everything else on the court. I don't do just one thing. I do a lot of other things on the court. Doing those things and being as unselfish as possible [will put me in the best position to do that]."Jones, however, has a different slant."Conditioning and just getting his body back to playing on a consistent basis [are the key issues]. He has played pretty good minutes," he said. "It's just a process of him mentally and physically getting back to the pre-knee injury playing level that he was at. He's kind of getting there. You can almost see it daily now."And once Butler regains that form, the Toros coach feels the sky is the limit for this former Mountaineer. "I fully expect that if not by the end of this season or the start of next season after he goes through the summer leagues and stuff, I think he'll definitely be back in the NBA," Jones said.Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.